Via Kevin Drum, here’s a doozy of a chart developed by blogger Afferent Input, comparing how the top income earners are faring, compared with everyone else.

Paper shopping bag - 100The left axis on the chart represents how the distribution of income has changed, from 1979 to the present. The various lines break down the trends by income group.

The clear messages: the top 1 percent are doing great; the next 1-4 percent are doing pretty well; but the bottom 90%—the bottom 5 lines on the chart—are getting squeezed out.

To me, these numbers put the lie to the adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Really, it’s lifting yachts. And the rest of us are foundering at best, sinking at worst.

Mind you, this isn’t the end of the story: the chart shows relative income distribution, not absolute income. Adjusted for inflation, median income (best represented by the orange-ish line in the middle) has risen a bit nationally since the late 1980s, and remained roughly flat in the US Northwest. So compared with their parents, young entrants into today’s middle class aren’t so bad off—at least, not according to these numbers.

It’s just that the phenomenal growth of the economy over the last several decades—and the extraordinary wealth generated by the stock and real estate markets—hasn’t done all that much for the folks in the middle and bottom of the income ladder. Fair? Not so much.